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When is a medication error evidence of medical malpractice?

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2024 | Misdiagnosis |

Prescription medications are often useful for people with a variety of health challenges. Drugs can help control someone’s blood sugar, limit their pain and stimulate their appetite. However, controlled substances are subject to physician oversight for a reason.

Medications can interact with one another in ways that are dangerous. People can have severe reactions to them in some cases. Many medications also put people at risk of chemical dependence. When a patient has an unfavorable outcome after a course of drug treatment, they may question whether they potentially experienced medical malpractice.

When does a harmful medication error constitute malpractice?

When it is a result of negligence

Malpractice cases relate to claims of professional negligence. A nurse or physician failed to do something that a reasonable professional would recognize as necessary for patient safety. Failing to check a patient for an allergy and a medication known for causing catastrophic anaphylactic reactions might be negligence if most other doctors would conduct an allergy test before administering the medication. Distributing the wrong drug to a patient in a hospital setting due to distraction caused by another patient could also constitute professional negligence.

The failure to taper someone off of drugs known to cause chemical dependence, such as steroids and narcotic pain relievers, could also be negligence on the part of a doctor. Even the failure to look over someone’s medical records thoroughly or examine their family history could lead to preventable medication errors.

When a doctor deviates from best practices

Doctors should try to conform to best practices for patient safety and harm reduction. Often, physicians write prescriptions for a set number of pills and possibly a single refill. They may then ask the patient to make a follow-up appointment to obtain additional medication if necessary. Writing someone a prescription for multiple months of one medication that has a known risk of abuse is conduct that does not conform to current best practices.

Similarly, there are many protocols in place for drugs that have certain risks and side effects. Teenagers undergoing specialty treatment for acne have to take pregnancy tests due to the risk of birth defects. The choice not to administer those tests because of a teenager’s religion might not necessarily constitute negligence, but it is a substantial deviation from established best practices.

Oftentimes, consulting with another physician can help someone evaluate whether the conduct related to the administration of a medication was negligent or otherwise unprofessional. Patients who believe their doctors caused them harm as a result of improper medication practices may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit can reduce the long-term economic harm caused by a doctor’s error.